Category Archives: Political commentary

Resolving the Growth Dilemma: Quality not Quantity

Endless growth on a finite planet is impossible. Yet endless growth of the economy is the reflexive goal of almost every government in the world. This defines the existential crisis into which humanity is blundering.

Yet even many people who are alert to the problem struggle to prescribe a remedy, or even to give the remedy a name. Various terms float around, like no growth, steady state, degrowth or postgrowth. There are two fundamental problems with these terms: they don’t define what they are talking about and they just keep the focus on growth.

George Lakoff wrote the book called Don’t Think of an Elephant. What did you just do? You thought of an elephant. Don’t think about growth. Oh. You just did. If I want you to think about flowers, I need to talk about flowers. Let’s stop and smell the flowers. Ah, that’s better.

Growth of what, exactly? Steady state what? Well, when the political mainstream says ‘growth of the economy’, it really means ‘growth of the Gross Domestic Product’, the GDP. GDP is the sum of all activities involving money, adjusted to avoid double counting. But what about good activities that don’t involve money, like staying home and loving baby? And is everything involving money, everything that is bought and sold, a good thing?

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The chasm between the society we are offered and the fair go we want

[Posted at Pearls and Irritations, 20 July 17.]

Fair go?There is widely perceived to be a gap between our stumbling political system and the wishes of the Australian people. However those who look a little deeper into our Australian hearts see not just a gap but a yawning chasm.

In a 2016 study by social researcher Richard Eckersley, published in Oxford Development Studies, people were asked which of two possible futures came closer to what they expected, and which of the two they preferred.

  • Scenario one was ‘a fast paced, internationally competitive society, with emphasis on the individual, wealth generation and enjoying the good life’. Three quarters expected a future along these lines.
  • Scenario two was ‘a greener, more stable society, where the emphasis is on cooperation, community and family, more equal distribution of wealth, and greater economic self-sufficiency’. 93% preferred this scenario.”

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Avoiding Terrorism

[Now published on Independent Australia]

The tragic loss of innocent lives to terrorist acts will not stop until we admit to the folly of current policies.

Lost amid the genuine anguish, the outrage, the media frenzy, and the political posturing after each terrorist event in the West is a simple question: “Why are they so angry, these terrorists?” You don’t really have to look far for an answer.

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New eBook: The Rise and Failure of the Radical Right

The Origins of Australia’s Political Disarray

The right-wing ideology of the past 40 years has failed. It was always going to fail, because it is based on nonsense ideas, and because it harms people and the natural world. Australian politics has been dragged far to the right since 1980 because both major parties embraced an agenda promoted by right-wing radicals. Now the radical right’s grip on power is finally slipping. We are poised for a major political re-alignment.

A BetterNature Short Book (14,500 words).

Released 4 May 2017. May the Fourth be with you.

Now available on Amazon.

See more about my books, existing and forthcoming, here.

Desperately Seeking the Fair Go – blog post

[This post introduces my new book. Full text now available as pdf or epub.]

desperatelysmAustralia accomplished an economic miracle in the nineteenth century, rising from subsistence to the richest country in the world. Along with New Zealand, Australia also led the world in political and social innovation, aspiring to provide a fair go for everyone. By 1913 Australia was a distinctive, dynamic and increasingly egalitarian society.

Despite some economic, political and psychological setbacks through the twentieth century, Australia by 1980 was a prosperous and open society still generally pursuing the fair go, notwithstanding some notable gaps.

Australians also had another great accomplishment to our credit: we had peaceably welcomed a great diversity of immigrants who spiced Oz with many new cultural flavours. We grumbled a bit and might not have openly admitted it, but we were a tolerant, talented, innovative, even interesting lot.

Today Australia is a very different place. We are in a lather of fear over moderate challenges that are substantially of our own making. We shrink from big challenges bearing down on us. We are insecure, and increasingly selfish, divided and directionless. We pursue scapegoats, vilifying innocent people and grossly abusing some. We act as though we are incapable, and have to bring in foreigners and their money to run things for us.

Yet we can still be generous and tolerant, and we can still sometimes be the fun-loving larrikins we like to think we are. We have abundant resources, talent, skill and energy, and we speak many of the world’s languages. Why do we make such heavy going of it?

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Brexit, Trump and a Rigged System

Economist Ian McAuley has written a series of articles called Brexit, Trump and the Lucky Countryon John Menadue’s site Pearls and Irritations. The analysis is good as far as it goes, but there are more fundamental factors at work.

The neoliberal program never achieved more than mediocrity and overall it has failed even on its own terms. Worse, it has corrupted government, fractured society and visited destruction upon the Earth. This failure flows from two false premises at the heart of neoliberalism: the libertarian claim that people should be rugged individualists, and the neoclassical claim that free markets usually will automatically optimise an economy.

Behind the votes for Brexit and Trump lies a simple perception: the system is rigged in favour of the rich. That perception is accurate. People may lash out at scapegoats and follow false prophets, but their disgust and alienation are quite justified. Trump promised to break up the cozy club at the top, and many people said Yes.

Two extracts published at Pearls and Irritations, here and here.

Full essay here.

Trump Refracted Through Nineteen Eighty-Four

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[Published at Independent Australia]

I’m not the only one having thoughts of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. My own reminder came through Donald Trump’s flirtation with Russia. Suddenly Russia switches from being the Evil Empire to being a useful ally. And when Trump feels his grip on power might be slipping he’ll pick a fight to distract us. Who will he pick a fight with? Obviously China.

We are in Orwell’s world. There are three superpowers: Oceania, Eurasia, Eastasia. We are at war with Eurasia and Eastasia is our ally. No, we are at war with Eastasia and Eurasia is our ally. We have always been at war with Eastasia.

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